Ready Player One is a book that theoretically should be right up my alley. After seeing it pop up on my Twitter, endorsed by various celebrities and being hailed as a new cult classic, it held my interest, and for a while, I managed to ignore it. It wasn’t until the screen bled into my real life and people I actually knew started to tell me how much I would enjoy this book, I decided to pick it up and give it a read.
For those who don’t know anything about the plot of Ready Player One, it is a novel by Ernest Cline, which describes how James Halliday, a brilliant but socially challenged designer, creates a large virtual world called the OASIS, somewhere for people to learn and to get away from their problems.
However, when Halliday dies he leaves behind the deeds to his digital empire in the form of clues, with the person who manages to solve all the clues inheriting the OASIS, leaving 5 young people to battle against an establishment who want to control this virtual safe haven, to save the OASIS. Wade Owen Watts is the eyes of the reader as he journeys through cyberspace trying to protect his escape from the outside world, joined by ‘Aech’, ‘Art3mis’, ‘Shoto’ and ‘Daito’ as they battle to save their virtual reality.
I loved the premise of the book, as someone who grew up racing home from to turn on a PlayStation to race through the latest level of Sonic, and as someone still races home as an adult to turn on a PlayStation 4, the nerd trivia aspect was something I loved. From vintage games to old school Dungeons and Dragons (I say old school, I’m a level 10 elven ranger now but D&D is on its fifth edition, and Halliday’s would be a fine vintage) it was amazing to pick out bits and pieces of old school trivia and it only endeared you more to the story as even though I have no doubt I couldn’t crack these clues myself it made me feel like I could enjoy the chase.
From a story aspect, it’s gripping and engaging and something I would label a fantastic read … until the last few chapters. For me, the book lacks the cathartic release that you would want at the end. SPOILER ALERT! To obtain the final key there is a huge battle between the gunters (people who want the OASIS to be free) and the IOI (previously mentioned bad establishment) and the battle is exactly what you need, a moment of high tension and the send-off the book needed.
However Nolan Sorrento, the head of IOI and ‘the big bad’, manages to reach the key’s location at the same time and it’s a race to see who finds it first and controls the OASIS. Brilliant … except they do it in separate virtual worlds, and whilst there is the tension the ending lacks the intensity of a final showdown. There’s no triumphant grins shot as Sorrento, or Wade getting to see the look on the face of the man who tried to murder him as he one-ups him for the final time. It just ends. Fade to a happy ending, Sorrento is arrested, Wade gets the girl and control of his safe haven. And all together, and I’m possibly in the minority about this, it felt very dissatisfying to me.
The main quarrel I had with the story, in general, was the treatment of Art3mis. As a reader, I didn’t have much of a connection with Wade but Art3mis was a character I immediately fell in love with. She wanted to use the prize money for good, named herself after my favourite Greek Goddess and was a nerd girl who actually had a personality outside of being a ‘geek girl’. She was ambitious and ultimately seemed like she didn’t want a relationship with Wade; she was willing to keep her feelings out of the fray and achieve what she wanted whilst Wade was pushing her to be with him.
That’s why when the ending came around and she just seemed to be the final prize that Wade won for defeating the evil, I felt bitter about the way things had worked out. Ultimately, I would have preferred more build up of the Art3mis/Wade relationship in interactions I could read rather than the description of how they became close, in a show not tell kind of way, or even better for them not to become an item at all. For someone who identified a lot with Art3mis because we share a lot of characteristics it felt like, once again, it was another case of a girl being the prize and for someone who was so ambitious and on an equal footing with Wade it annoyed me that she didn’t seem all too upset to lose out on a prize that could’ve easily been her own.